ERWIN — A public prayer meeting will take place next week for residents opposed to seeing the enactment of liquor by drink come to fruition in Erwin and Unicoi County.
The prayer meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Friday in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, 200 Love St.
Unicoi County resident Edd Bolton said the meeting’s organization was an effort of the Evangelism/Missions Team at First Baptist Church, made up of Bolton, Bernice Brown, Clara Curtis, Juanita Engle and Steven Keesecker.
Bolton said the group has sent mailings to more than 60 pastors in Unicoi County to notify their congregations of the meeting. The event will also include speakers — five pastors, a former judge and someone from the medical field — who will discuss various topics including alcohol’s effects on younger people and health issues related to alcohol use, Bolton said. He also said anyone is invited to attend the gathering.
“I want to stress it’s non-denominational, and we’ve tried to involve all the churches in Unicoi County,” Bolton said.
Bolton said he has heard from a number of people in the community opposed to liquor by the drink and organizers are expecting a strong turnout.
“We’re getting a lot of support, a lot of good feedback,” Bolton said. “Most pastors are against it, but there are several that are 110 percent against it.”
Earlier this year, Unicoi County resident John Day started a pair of petitions — one for residents of Unicoi County and another for citizens residing within the limits of the town of Erwin — to have a liquor by the drink referendum placed on the November ballots for each municipality. If passed, these referendums would allow restaurants in the town and county to sell liquor and wine.
Day said he believes the minimum number of signatures for the petition for the town of Erwin has been collected to have the items placed on the ballot for its voters, and signatures are still being collected on this petition and one for the county. The petitions, with the required minimum number of signatures, must be submitted to the Unicoi County Election Commission office by Sept. 7 to have the referendums placed on November ballots.
Those in favor of the referendums’ passage feel liquor by the drink is necessary to draw perspective restaurants to the county and will boost local tax revenues lost when people leave the county to have a drink with dinner.
“We’re missing tons of revenue that’s leaving our county,” Day said Friday.
However, Bolton said he does not feel the referendums’ passage would lead to more restaurants locating to the county.
“I feel like Erwin doesn’t need liquor by the drink,” Bolton said. “A lot of people are hollering ‘revenue’ and, yes, Erwin does need revenue. But, I don’t see the revenue happening. They think if we get liquor by the drink that the big restaurants will come in. They’re not. They’re not going to come in. The restaurants look at demographics and rooftops and income. They look at rooftops and income and neither is here.
“So I don’t think that we will see any big restaurants come in, and Erwin has been a quiet community and it’s known for that. And I’d like to keep it that way.”
Bolton also said he and others opposed to passage of liquor by the drink do not feel its passage would result in significantly increased revenue for the area. He also pointed out increased costs for policing an increased number of drunken drivers if the referendum passes.
“In the end, what it costs the sheriff’s department and the court system, you don’t see those costs when you’re anticipating revenue,” Bolton said.
Day said he respects the views of those opposed to liquor by the drink and said he would respect the community’s stance if the referendums are placed on the ballot but fail to pass by a majority vote.
“I’m not forcing this down anyone’s throat, I want to make that clear,” Day said. “I’m putting something out there for people to vote on that hasn’t been put on the ballot since I can remember.”